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The ROLE of Language in National Unity
Language plays a very vital role in any human community- school, company, organization, group, home etc. In every human society, language occupies a very important place, more than it seems to everyone. The functions of language in any human community include the following: expression of thoughts, politics, administration, education, social, religious, legislation, and so on.
However, we will use Nigeria as a case study. The goal of every human community is to have peace and unity, many nations of the world today are facing varying degrees of conflict and Nigeria is unfortunately one of those countries. This paper is going to examine the role that language has to play in achieving national unity in Nigeria. People in the past have expressed their various views on the meaning of language.
A lecturer of mine, Professor Fakuade.G. he said and I quote “language is the faithful mirror of society” in other words a language is what shows the true nature of any society. This means that what a language is meant to do in any society is to reflect to the world what that society is about. Therefore the language of any society should give us a perfect knowledge of what that society comprises. culture, beliefs, dress, marriage and any other sociolinguistic information about the society. Language is also supposed to be seen as a symbol of a nation like the flag, anthem, currency, etc. in other words, language should be the window through which people can see society.
As Bamgbose sees it, English is the language of integration in Nigeria, amidst the complex complexities of Nigeria, especially in relation to the language issue, the only language that captures the spirit of cohesion is English. This clearly shows that so far in Nigeria, the English language has played a very important role in keeping Nigeria together as a unified nation. Amidst our cultural diversities and differences in beliefs, the English language still plays a big role in keeping Nigeria united and since it is the link between the various ethnic groups that exist in Nigeria, we cannot help but give this advantage to English to keep us together. far away. Out of the more than 500 languages we have in Nigeria, we still have one link and that link is none other than English, this has served as a means of communication between the different tribes found in Nigeria.
Of all the legacies left behind in Nigeria by the British at the end of colonial rule, perhaps none is more important than the English language. It is now the language of government, business and commerce, education, mass media, literature, and many internal and external communications. Bamgbose (1971)
As the Language of Wider Communication (LWC), English is used for phatic society, ritualistic purpose and instrument of record-keeping, dissemination of information, self-experiment and embodiment of thought among the various linguistic groups of Nigeria. The common linguistic basis which is a prerequisite for the existence of any nation is provided by English. Thus, with English as the common language for all ethnic groups, a collective sense of belonging together is forged despite individual or ethnic differences.
It is obvious that the language that has held Nigeria up to date to a large extent has been the English language handed down to us by our colonial masters and it has so far played that role well. In our official daily communication, it has greatly strengthened the relationship that existed between the various ethnic groups that we have here in Nigeria. An Igbo man who has never been to the western part of the country nor understands Yoruba will surely see English as the best medium to express his feeling, thought or whatever he has to say in such a situation.
Another area where language has helped keep us united in Nigeria is in academics, this is because it has gone a long way in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the less privileged. Hence, we have English as a link between the high and low class in Nigeria.
In religion the important role that language plays can never be overemphasized, in various religious gatherings. English has served as a medium of communication, thus bringing people together under the same umbrella. Many religious gatherings in Nigeria either make use of English in the conduct of proceedings and of course it has contributed greatly to peaceful coexistence in our beloved country. Although, we had various religious disputes and had a conflict at one time or another.
As we have previously pointed out the various roles of English in achieving and maintaining national unity, however, I believe it would have been better if the role or roles English has played so far had been played by a native language, this is no disrespect intended or attempted of the English language, has contributed greatly to the national unity of Nigeria. But I am convinced that the situation would be better if this position were occupied by a language that is truly ours. if the language was native.
Misrepresentation of ideas and expression is one of the main reasons for conflict that we have around the world today that comes from the use of words/pronunciations where the intended ideas have been misrepresented. You can never reach the level of proficiency a native speaker would have in their language and this has caused many people what they never bargained for, it has sent many to their early graves. A man’s language is seen as the tool that helps him express his thoughts, unfortunately for a man, using another man’s language which is said to be his L2. he manages to falsify his ideas. In such a situation he is using a word out of context and some people could be so sensitive to the use of the word. Many of the conflicts and ethnic strife we have had in the past could have been avoided if our official language was an indigenous language. The reason is that many people have verbally misrepresented their ideas, opinions and intentions due to their low level of proficiency, have chosen the wrong word at the wrong time and this has led to unpleasant testimonies. We have chosen English as our “official language of everyday life” function and activities and this has led to a situation where our indigenous languages take a back seat. English language is the key to every important door, no one who cannot communicate in English Language is expected to occupy an important position in any organization.
The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of The English Language (Encyclopedic edition), defines language as the expression and communication of feelings or ideas between people through speech and hearing, sounds heard or heard systematized and confirmed by the use of given people in a given period of time.” From the above point of view, it implies that a language is supposed to communicate the inner (original) idea and express what a particular speaker has inside. But this is not always the case in a case where the particular speaker is not able in the language he uses as a means of communication at a point in time, for example, a Hausa man who wants to communicate with a Yoruba man or an Igbo man will have to use English where his proficiency level is low compared to his L1, there is probable possibility that such a person is very likely to falsify some of his intentions during communication and this may not be received by the other part y and could lead to conflict between them. In such a case would one say that the language was able to play its role well? This has certainly not justified the concept of language and the essence of communication.
The way in which a particular thought is conveyed is very important in communication. Therefore, the essence of all communication is to accurately present the inner idea of a speaker. Many Nigerians think in their MT and try to communicate their intentions in English and in some cases the ideas have been misinterpreted, they don’t have the right word to represent their thoughts. The situation is not the same when the interlocutors are of the same national origin and where both have a correct knowledge of the language.
Where there is similar linguistic background and better understanding (and the decoding of ideas is accurate), it will reduce the level of conflict we have in Nigeria. We could make our own version of the English language, Pidgin English. I believe this will go a long way in reducing the level of recurring conflict in our beloved country, Nigeria. Since the source of most of these conflicts was the way and how our various ideas were expressed or misinterpreted, we should look for a better way to communicate and that is why I believe that everyone has a role to play . We should start looking for a better way to express ourselves and avoid unnecessary conflicts by using a language that we do not have an encouraging level of proficiency and work on our communication skills.
To this end, let the federal government seek the advice of a language expert on how to achieve this goal and pay full attention to this lesson. Let all well meaning Nigerians come together and see how we can explore and exploit the richness in our language as we move towards national unity. And make every Nigerian realize that language can play more role of communication. Let’s revise our language policy and to avoid the death of our language, which is our symbol.
It is urgent for us to start seeing language as a vital factor of unity in our beloved country, Nigeria and begin to see how we can use this tool as a factor of unity to make Nigeria a more unified country and put aside all ethnic and racial differences. Language is a tool that can be in our quest for national unity and we must handle it with utmost dedication and seriousness. Every Nigerian should start thinking and see how the language can contribute to the development of the giant of Africa.
Our culture is embedded in our language. Let’s embrace our language with enthusiasm and pride and promote what we have in common and then our differences will become a thing of the past. This is a call for national unity but this time it comes through an unpopular medium, let us use this precious tool of ours towards one Nigeria. Language has a very vital role to play in our quest for national unity. Let’s embrace it like we did with football. Language has a vital role to play in our quest for national unity.
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